Sleepwalking usually occurs early in the night — often one to two hours after falling asleep. It's unlikely to occur during naps. A sleepwalking episode can occur rarely or often, and an episode generally lasts several minutes, but can last longer.
Someone who is sleepwalking may:
- Get out of bed and walk around
- Sit up in bed and open his or her eyes
- Have a glazed, glassy-eyed expression
- Not respond or communicate with others
- Be difficult to wake up during an episode
- Be disoriented or confused for a short time after being awakened
- Not remember the episode in the morning
- Have problems functioning during the day because of disturbed sleep
- Have sleep terrors in addition to sleepwalking
Sometimes, a person who is sleepwalking will:
- Do routine activities, such as getting dressed, talking or eating
- Leave the house
- Drive a car
- Engage in unusual behavior, such as urinating in a closet
- Engage in sexual activity without awareness
- Get injured, for example, by falling down the stairs or jumping out a window
- Become violent during the period of brief confusion immediately after waking or, occasionally, during sleepwalking
When to see a doctor
Occasional episodes of sleepwalking aren't usually a cause for concern and typically resolve on their own. You can simply mention the sleepwalking at a routine physical or well-child exam. However, consult your doctor if the sleepwalking episodes:
- Occur often — for example, more than one to two times a week or several times a night
- Lead to dangerous behavior or injury to the person who sleepwalks or to others
- Cause significant sleep disruption to household members or the person who sleepwalks
- Result in daytime symptoms of excessive sleepiness or problems functioning
- Start for the first time as an adult
- Continue into your child's teen years
Sleepwalking is classified as a parasomnia — an undesirable behavior or experience during sleep. Sleepwalking is a disorder of arousal, meaning it occurs during N3 sleep, the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Another NREM disorder is sleep terrors, which can occur together with sleepwalking.
Many factors can contribute to sleepwalking, including:
- Sleep deprivation
- Sleep schedule disruptions, travel or sleep interruptions
Sometimes sleepwalking can by triggered by underlying conditions that interfere with sleep, such as:
- Sleep-disordered breathing — a group of disorders featuring abnormal breathing patterns during sleep (for example, obstructive sleep apnea)
- Taking certain medications, such as hypnotics, sedatives or certain medications used for psychiatric disorders
- Substance use, such as alcohol
- Restless legs syndrome
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Factors that may increase the risk of sleepwalking include:
- Genetics. Sleepwalking appears to run in families. It's more common if you have one parent who has a history of sleepwalking, and much more common if both parents have a history of the disorder.
- Age. Sleepwalking occurs more often in children than adults, and onset in adulthood is more likely related to other underlying conditions.
Sleepwalking itself isn't necessarily a concern, but a person who sleepwalks can:
- Hurt themselves — especially if they walk near furniture or stairs, wander outdoors, drive a car or eat something inappropriate during a sleepwalking episode
- Experience prolonged sleep disruption, which can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and possible school or behavior issues
- Be embarrassed or experience problems with social relationships
- Disturb others' sleep
- Rarely, injure someone else nearby
July 21, 2017
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